Tag Archive | "South Fork Natural History Museum"

The Birds of Winter

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web birds LesserScaup

By Emily J. Weitz

Frank Quevedo doesn’t consider himself an expert birder, but that’s exactly why he wants to bring out a bunch of novices into the field to show them just how simple it can be. The executive director of SOFO has been birding for about five years, and he is always in awe of his peers who have been out there for thirty and forty years.

“I got hooked five years ago by seeing a screech owl one night,” he recalls. “Everybody has a hook bird. When I saw the eastern screech owl, I was hooked. I am still a beginner. Five years doesn’t make me an expert. But I know enough to share with beginners so they don’t feel intimidated. I want to make it available to people.”

In the upcoming three-part series aimed at beginning birders, Quevedo plans to bring people to three distinct East End landscapes that attract a variety of different birds. He’ll begin in Montauk on Sunday morning, February 3, bright and early. The group will meet at Montauk Point at 7:45.

“Montauk is a great place to start,” says Quevedo, “because at this time of year, the birds are here to take advantage of the abundance of food. The first part of our series will look at winter sea ducks in Montauk. Every year these scoters, longtail ducks, and eiders come to Montauk, not to breed, but to feed. They eat crabs, fish, and vegetation like the algae that’s still around on the bottoms of the bays.”

Quevedo knows the spots the birds love, like a tremendous mussel bed just off Montauk Point.

“We start early,” he says, “because most are lively just after the sun rises. They spend the night tucked in on the water, and once the sun comes up they start diving down into the water, taking advantage of the light.”

The second excursion, which will take place on Sunday, February 17, will head to Southampton, to the freshwater ponds near Dune Road. Participants will meet at 10 a.m.

“The common and hooded mergansers tend to feed on freshwater vegetation,” explains Quevedo, “so you’ll see them in freshwater ponds in Southampton.”

It’s particularly exciting to see these birds because populations have been depleted in recent years, explains Quevedo. Birding, and counting the species that you see, is important for environmentalists to get an idea of what’s out there.

Quevedo points out that birds like the mergansers have different plumage at different times of year, and as you get more adept at birding, you’ll be able to identify these distinctions.

“The same bird at different times of year may look completely different,” he says. “The pluming is more colorful in breeding season than at this time of year. You can also look for field marks, like the neck line, the cap, and the color of the head to distinguish between birds.”

The third of the three-part series (Sunday, March 3, at 10 a.m.) will bring participants to the field behind SOFO, where Quevedo will direct people to search for perching birds.

“These are not waterfowl,” says Quevedo. “They’re birds that perch on trees, like finches and warblers. There are a lot of these perching birds that winter here to take advantage of the different berries on the trees. It’s easier to see them this time of year, without all the leaves.”

This series highlights the diversity of landscapes that makes the East End a great home for a variety of species.

“Because of the variety of habitats on the East End,” says Quevedo, “it creates a variety of an abundance of birds. That’s extremely gratifying as a birder, to enjoy the variety of birds we can look at throughout the year. And it changes. Some birds migrate South and others come from the North. It’s never-ending, to go birding.”

Quevedo also cherishes the friendships that are made and the moments enjoyed out in the field.

“One thing I like to stress is that birding is fun,” he says. “People feel like they’ll hold back the group because they don’t know much. But if you can go consistently and can join these programs, it’s fun, healthy, and social. You can create little birding groups. I consider birding a lifestyle more than a hobby. This is a lifestyle that you can continue for many years to come.”

To make a reservation for any or all of these excursions, call SOFO at 537-9735.

Taking Notice of Woods in the Winter

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Tyler Armstrong of the South Fork Natural History Museum examines the bark of a Black Locust tree on the grounds near SOFO’s museum on Sunday, December 30. (Michael Heller Photo)

 

By Emily J. Weitz

From the five pointed leaves of maple trees to the jagged edges of oak tree leaves, there are some pretty well known ways to identify the trees in our area.

But it’s winter and the branches are bare.

In the quiet of the forest on a crisp January day, there’s no better time for a hike. And there are still plenty of ways to appreciate what you’re seeing. Even if the obvious identifying aspects of the trees are gone, like the leaves and flowers, this gives nature lovers the opportunity to look more closely and see the subtle beauty.

Tyler Armstrong of the South Fork Natural History Museum (SOFO) recently led a hike through the Long Pond Greenbelt, teaching people how to identify and appreciate the trees in winter. Armstrong points out that certain trees are actually more interesting to look at in the winter because of the bark.

“Sassafras,” he says, “has interesting bark with channels running through it. There’s a dark reddish color to the bark, and you can identify the sassafras easily because the trunk and branches are twisty and never go straight up.”

Another local winter tree he likes to seek out is the shag bark hickory.

“As it grows larger, the bark on the outside stays the same size,” he explains. “So the bark cracks in different ways. It comes off in long, vertical strips. These strips curl off the tree in a very distinct way.”

As the bark curls off, new bark growing underneath is revealed.

“All trees deal with this,” says Armstrong. “They grow from the inside, so the outer layers are forced to expand. Those old outer layers aren’t growing anymore, so they have to deal with that growth in different ways. There’s a distinct form the bark takes as it’s broken or stretched. A lot of trees develop furrows where the bark separates.”

This is another identifying factor — the way old bark adapts to the new.

“In a red oak tree, you’ll see deep canyons in the side of the tree and you can actually see the red. A white oak has more shallow furrows, and the bark forms strips that you could pull off.”

Armstrong thinks it’s important to be able to identify trees in the winter for a few reasons. First, he cites survival.

“If you know the different trees,” he says, “you can use them to find food. Certain mushrooms are associated with certain trees. Turkey tail mushrooms are found with oak trees, for example. Or if you find an oak, you know you can find an acorn, which you could eat if you were starving.”

Knowing the different trees can also have a more recreational purpose when you’re out on a winter hike, though. You can use an understanding of the trees to find different wildlife.

“White tailed deer tend to hide under the bows of evergreen trees,” says Armstrong. “Since they have needles throughout the year, it can be a bit warmer in there, and when there is snow on the bows, it’s a place to hide. Deer will sleep underneath trees in the winter.”

Other animals also use trees as a place to hide. Any tree that has holes or crevices is enticing to animals seeking shelter.

“Certain trees, like oaks and maples, have good cavities,” points out Armstrong. “Animals like owls will hide there.”

Then there are the trees that produce food for animals. Hickory trees produce edible nuts, as do shag bark trees. Deer and wood ducks count on these sources of food, and can be seen foraging near these trees this time of year.

The idea for this hike was really to share a love of the forest in winter.

“I think people out here get excited with nature in summertime,” says Armstrong. “It’s such a summer area… People expect everything to be dead or hiding in the winter. Once I was walking through the snow, expecting that. And all of a sudden a young deer popped up from the brush in the snow, three feet from me. It was startling, and made me realize we are sharing the land here with animals all year round.”

Armstrong emphasizes that the winter is a great time to notice trees that you otherwise might not even see.

“The evergreens become a lot more noticeable,” he says. “Like holly, which looks gorgeous in the winter with its red berries… I just want people to have more confidence in the forest. I want people to feel like the forest is a welcoming place any time of year, and not a place you should try to hide from or be protected from.”

Earthly Love

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On April 22, 1970, the world experienced its first Earth Day. Initially an event with nearly 20 million participants in the U.S., Earth Day has grown to include an estimated 1 billion participants from countries all around the world.

“People of all nationalities and backgrounds will voice their appreciation for the planet and demand its protection,” a message on the official Earth Day website proclaims. “Together we will stand united for a sustainable future and call upon individuals, organizations and governments to do their part.”

When you think about it, a lot has changed since the 1970s — and for the better. Cars and appliances run far more efficiently than they did a few decades ago, using far less fossil fuel and electricity. Meanwhile, the notoriously polluted byways and waterways of the New York metro area (who among us from that unenlightened era can soon forget the stench of the Meadowlands from the New Jersey Turnpike on a hot summer’s day?) have been largely reclaimed, cleaned up and are once again full of wildlife that can thrive there without fear of death and disease from toxic waste.

Beyond the urban landscape, there’s much to celebrate on the East End on this Earth Day as well. For one, let’s be thankful for the preservation efforts that, since the 1970s, have maintained the rural areas we still have in the face of rampant development pressures (anyone remember the proposed Montauk Highway bypass that would have cut through Sag Harbor’s southern reaches?)

But alas, there’s always garbage to be found on the streets and beaches of our fair towns and villages. So here on the East End, there are Earth Day celebrations aplenty and many of them come with an opportunity to do a little community service along the way. From the Great East End Clean-Up — for which Southampton Town residents will comb through over 70 locations with pokers and trash bags in hand — to local beach cleanups and environmentally friendly activities put on by organizations like the South Fork Natural History Museum and Nature Center (SoFo) and Concerned Citizens of Montauk (CCOM), there is plenty to choose from.

Earth Day has long been popular and we expect a good number of people on the East End to show up this weekend and do their part for the environment — even if it’s simply taking that extra few moments to bend down and pick up a piece of litter on our morning walks. Every little bit helps.

The public’s awareness of environmental issues on April 22 is admirable and important. However, there are 364 other days in the year that are not given Earth Day distinction. What happens then?

This Earth Day weekend, take a mental snapshot of the efforts you see around you to protect the environment, and work to make those practices a more regular part of your daily routine. We’re not saying you have to drive to Sagg Main every morning with a poker and a trash bag and comb the beach looking for scattered debris. (We know, we have day jobs, too.)

Rather, take time during the rest of the year to pick up trash when you encounter it, for example. Do your part to eliminate plastic from the waste stream and buy reusable cloth shopping bags to keep in the trunk for when you’re out and about. And don’t leave your car idling when you “just run in to grab something.” Yes, we know it’ll only take a second, but those brief moments still create unwanted emissions.

The point is, Earth Day will inevitably end; but the need to keep our environment clean and healthy will not.

This weekend, don’t pick up trash and debris just because it’s Earth Day; clean up the environment around you because it’s the right thing to do. Because this is where we all live and we don’t want to see it ruined.


Look Deep Into Nature

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By Richard Gambino

“Look deep, deep into nature and then you will understand everything better.” So wrote Albert Einstein in 1951. I would add only that it can also be great fun. And, as a matter of fact, I recently had an excellent learning experience that truly was great fun at the South Fork (SoFo) Natural History Museum & Nature Center, on Bridgehampton – Sag Harbor Turnpike. Frank Quevedo, its Executive Director, and one of its five full time staff/educators/guides, who work with many other naturalists, led me on a tour there, the same tour available to all visitors. We used a superb field guide, also available to all visitors. Its text is brief, easy to read, very informative and is very well designed as a guide both to SoFo’s exhibits and to nature itself here on the East End. Its color pictures are great.

The exhibits on SoFo’s second floor are terrific, containing live creatures that surround us here. The exhibits are designed to fill the senses, as happens when we are outdoors surrounded by natural life, not only its sights and sounds, but people can also sniff ports, set at the level of kids’ noses, which convey the scents of what is observed. Children and adults get to interact with and explore the exhibits by opening doors and draws, lifting bark off trees, and in other ways uncovering ecological details of natural scenes, of nature and of natural history.

Mr. Quevedo brought me to a second-story deck overlooking the 1,100 acre Long Pond Greenbelt Preserve — giving all visitors a breathtaking view that not only changes from season to season but from moment to moment with the changing light of any and every day. More, on the platform are permanently mounted high-powered spotting scopes. I looked through one at a pond a distance away, and clearly saw two painted turtles sunning themselves on one of the pond’s banks. As I entered the scene, the scene entered me — such interrelationships are critical to building a love of nature, and SoFo is designed to provide such experiences, in ways that motivate people to develop them further in nature itself.

A great highlight of my visit occurred on the ground level of the facility, the home of many more live creatures. Mr. Quevedo held a very much alive and lively eastern tiger salamander in his hands, as I took a photo of it. I’d never before seen one, and indeed very few people have — it is a rare and endangered species in New York. The species lives here, as do all the species at the SoFo Museum & Center. (I also photographed a live sea horse, an “exotic” creature living just off our shores in eelgrass meadows.)

Visitors, including children, can also hold in their hands creatures from a glass see-through “marine touch tank,” including sea stars and crabs.

SoFo is open seven days a week, 12 months a year, and a yearlong family membership, allowing kids and their parents and grandparents to enjoy the museum and center as many times as they choose costs only $50. (The cost of a one-day admission for non-members is $5 for kids ages 3-12, free for kids 2 and under, and $7 for adults.)

SoFo also conducts a great many outdoor programs (related to the four seasons), and programs with live animals — all also free to members and at small prices to nonmembers. For example, there will be an Owl Prowl in Bridgehampton, on the night of December 10, to search for sights of owls, a nature walk on December 11 to observe seals at Montauk, a Meet Live Birds of Prey (up close) on November 12, a Feeding Time feeding the live animals at SoFo on November 13, a Wildlife Live & Up Close opportunity on November 26, a Winter Water Birds tour in Montauk on December 3, and many other programs for children and for adults, including indoor talks. Mr. Quevedo told me that SoFo hopes to have two more indoor lecture/classroom spaces added to its facilities. SoFo’s gift shop has books for kids and adults for sale, at discounted prices for members, and members may borrow books from its archival library. For more information, Google “SoFo Museum” for its website, or call: 631 537-9735.

Learning about nature used to be just the fun a beginning or advanced naturalist has in learning the names and ways of living creatures. These are fascinating, or even “fantastic,” as the fact that a tiny acorn easily held in a child’s small hand can someday be a high and mighty oak tree, like the ones kids strain their necks trying to see their tops.

In recent decades, a much fuller form of natural history has become popular, with, one, an emphasis on the ecological interrelationships of all living systems, including humans, and two, with advancements in understanding genetics. The wholeness of life they present gives us a deeper sense of what it means to be human, as biological beings, but also as moral beings and, yes, as spiritual beings. Our sense of natural history today unites us with all other life — we are totally joined with the ecological health of all great living systems, including some under stresses here on the East End. So arise moral imperatives, from enlightened self-interest in how we relate to nature, to our moral duty to preserve its health for future generations. We also have a new understanding and respect for the intrinsic natural values of living things, including humans: E.g., we’ve added an understanding that the tiny acorn in a kid’s hand contains a vast amount of genetic-cybernetic information needed to form an oak tree. We have a new respect for the unique natural values of each species, and for individuals each unique in its species.

In fact, we humans literally are nature becoming conscious of itself, understanding itself, and valuing itself.

The great mission of the Sofo Museum of Natural History & Nature Center, just south of Sag Harbor, to cultivate these understandings and appreciations in us and in our kids, and the fun in doing so, presents us with very great and wonderful opportunities. Let’s enjoy them.


RICHARD GAMBINO’s reasons for living on the East End very much include awe and love of nature.


Reassembling A Deer

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Deer Skeleton - web edit

By Annette Hinkle

Wanted: Someone with lots of free time who loves assembling bones, has done it before and is not worried about putting the drill in the wrong place. Also required, patience and good humor. Wine and refreshments provided.

The bones. They’re in plastic Ziploc bags spread out across the dining room table in Dai Dayton’s Bridgehampton farmhouse. They once belonged to a white tailed deer — and there are a lot of them — each bag labeled in black Sharpie with a best guess estimate of what part of the animal they are from.

Dayton is vice president of Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt and the deer skeleton is from Vineyard Field, the grassland area behind the South Fork Natural History Society that the Friends have been working to restore for many years. The skeleton was found there a few seasons back, lying undisturbed under a large birch tree.

“It had just laid down and died,” recalls Dayton who’s not sure what killed the deer. The scapula is shattered, so she speculates the animal could have been hit by a car or even with an arrow, though none was found nearby. She doesn’t know the age of the deer, or if it was a male or female.

What is noteworthy, however, is the fact that the bones were picked clean and the skeleton was still largely intact.

“Usually the chipmunks eat the bones,” she says.

Because the skeleton was in such good shape, Dayton got the idea to reassemble it as a museum display for Southampton Town’s Long Pond Greenbelt Nature Center up the road.

“It was so cool, and I thought, wouldn’t it be a great project for a school?”

So Dayton gathered the bones and took them to the Hayground School where a teacher thought it would be a great project for the students.

“It stayed there for a year, not touched,” says Dayton.

Then she took the skeleton to Sag Harbor Elementary School where another teacher thought it would be a great project for the students.

“And it sat there for another year without being touched,” adds Dayton.

Finally, Dayton decided to do it herself and rallied other members of FLPG to join the effort. They found a book online that detailed how to put moose bones together, and Dayton pulled out her old anatomy books from animal husbandry courses she had taken.

Recently Dayton hosted a small work party — sort of akin to a quilting bee. Steve Gauger was the brave soul who dared to drill the first holes in the bones for wiring. At this point in the process, the group has managed to thread the vertebrae on a stainless rod and the two forelegs are strung together.

“We should be doing it once a week, but after that last episode I haven’t got the guts,” says Dayton. “No one called me to say ‘I had so much fun, let’s do it again.”

But the bags of bones are still there, just waiting for the right person to put them back together again.

“There are all these tiny little bones,” says Dayton. “The bags that are not put together are bigger than the parts we have assembled. One of the tibias is missing, so I have some spare parts in the back of my truck because a friend found a carcass.”

“We know the order they go in,” she adds. “Its the gluing and wiring and getting a stand to hold them that’s the issue. Just those forelegs took hours.”

“So it’s going to be like another 10 years.”

But Dayton is optimistic someone out there has the time and energy and is just waiting for a project like this. Maybe it’s someone reading this right now.

“We always supply the wine and the refreshments,” says Dayton enticingly before adding, “We had hoped to finish it in February. But we do have to say — we’ve done more than those two schools did in two years … or maybe even three.”

A Conversation With Heather Abrams

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A cancer survivor and wildlife/nature educator, Abrams inspired her parents to raise money for and provide education on Dr. Mitchell Cairo of Columbia University Medical Center’s Division of Pediatric Blood & Marrow Transplantation — the doctor their daughter believes saved her life. A fundraiser “Dreaming for Discovery and Cure benefit” will be held this Saturday, July 19 in Water Mill.

You were diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease in 1999 Can you tell us a little about your experience?

Basically the way I found out was when I was 15, I was in Social Studies class and I felt my neck and it was swollen. It felt like there were three eggs in my neck. So I went to our school nurse in New Jersey and she sent me to the doctor and the doctor sent me to a radiologist to have an X-ray from [her neck to her chest]. It didn’t show anything because as we found out it was all in my lymph nodes. Eventually they sent me for an MRI and that was when they found the tumor. I don’t remember how big it was. It was right in my mediastinum. That was March 1999. I had chemo in May or June and I had radiation for a month. My hair did not all fall out, which was weird, but it became really, really thin. I have gone through three different times of losing it. I remember in chemo, one week I would be completely exhausted and the next week completely nauseous, but at the same time I was on steroids so I was starving. So, that was bad.

You had a reoccurrence of cancer after you entered your first remission. When did that happen?

I was technically in remission around August of 1999. I went back to school for my sophomore year. In September, my doctor at St. Barnabas [Hospital] said she wanted to do tests in about a year, and I said I would be more comfortable if we did it in six months. And so we did in six months, and didn’t you know it, I was sick again.

My hair had grown out about [six inches] long by then, and it was thicker, but a little bit lighter. I used to have darker hair.

The deal was, the second time around they wanted to do as much as possible to make sure that it did not come back ever again — the protocol being chemo, stem cell transplant, [umbilical] cord blood transplant, which could not be done at St. Barnabas, which is why I went to Columbia.

So, that is where you met Dr. Cairo?

Yes. So I had three rounds of highly toxic, crazy chemo, emergencies in between like crazy infections, no platelets. Each chemo was a week in the hospital and each emergency was a week. My stem cell transplant was from my own stem cells, so that was on my 17th birthday when I should have been getting my license. But I was already in remission my then — the stem cell transplant and the cord blood transplant were just a boost. I had no hair, eyebrows — nothing. This was all in 2000.

What are your thoughts on the importance of stem cell transplants and cord blood as it relates to people facing cancer? Did it save your life?

Yes. The only thing they are worried about is secondary leukemia — I just had a bone marrow procedure last week to check my bone marrow. And I get breast MRIs every year and an ultrasound of my breastplate every six months.

Apparently if you take my DNA, it’s me — if you take my blood, there is the baby’s blood [from the umbilical cord blood transplant]. So, I am chimera, which means I am a fusion of two organisms. My hair started growing back after the radiation — it was really blond — it was like brand new hair. My hair has been growing now since August of 2001.

So are you afraid to cut your hair now?

When I cut it, it’s just a trim — I really try not to cut it.

What was it that brought your parents, stepmother Beverly Deak and father Mark Abrams, to start the Dream, Discover, Cure foundation?

My doctor had the Pediatric Cancer Foundation … he had me speak at fundraisers and events, because I am his strong patient. I am the second person at Columbia Presbyterian to go through a cord blood transplant and live. Also, I have no scar tissue. I never rejected the blood, I never rejected anything. So my dad and I got into this and began raising money for [Dr. Cairo].

What does the foundation aim to accomplish?

It’s purely to raise money for Dr. Cairo, because he is a genius in this field. He is trying to find ways to understand how these cancers happen in order to prevent it. It’s obviously to help other people in the end, but my dad does this in honor of me.

What drew you to study animal science and geography at the University of Vermont?

Well, ever since I was little I wanted to do stuff like marine science, and of course when I got sick I thought I would be a doctor, but that did go out the window. I’ve always liked it. It makes me happy and I have been through a lot — I want to do something meaningful. I started in geography and added the animal science. I have worked with all kinds of animals — cats, cows — I interned working with dolphins and sea lions in Florida, and worked at a lake preserve like this before I came to [the South Fork Natural History Museum]. I love turtles — I have a half blind turtle in my office, Biddy Boxer [a box turtle] who I just love. I am just passionate about it and I want to do what I love because life is short and I know that for a fact.

What is your work at the South Fork Natural History Museum like?

I am a nature educator, which means I am around to help answer questions and give insight as people tour our facilities. We have a wonderful touch tank downstairs, with sea stars and crabs that people love, and we care for a number of handicapped animals and animals in need with the hope of being able to release them into their natural habitat.

The fundraiser “Dreaming for Discovery and Cure benefit” will be held this Saturday, July 19 at the home of Janet Whalen and Robert W. Postma in Water Mill. For more information, call 725-0009.

Above: Heather Abrams with Bitty Boxer, one of her favorite animals at the South Fork Natural History Museum. (k menu photo)